When Molly Ivins passed away last year, I realized that I knew her only by a very vague name association (I’d seen her name on a couple of anti-Bush books) and the commentary she did for a documentary about purchasing (illegal) dildos in Texas: funny stuff, even if hearing steadfast liberalism with a Texas twang evoked not a little cognitive dissonance in me.
Ivins last book, published posthumously, is mostly a defense of the Bill of Rights, which she says is the only part of the Constitution that she believes in with religious zeal. Ivins has long been a proponent of civil rights, especially free speech, and a critic of the Bush administration in part due to its abuses of those civil rights, regardless of what Dick Cheney has to say. Bill of Wrongs deals largely with the first—
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
—and then with the middle three, which all kind of go together—
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Ivins (and Dubose) focus the first half of the book on instances, generally, where a protester—usually someone wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt at a pro-Bush rally, is arrested and forcibly removed from the event, even though their peaceful protest is a protected first amendment right. Galling, too, is that these people are often never actually charged with anything, but instead released as soon as the event is over and the president and his security staff leave town. The Secret Service leave the arrest and detention up to whatever local police official is there—Ivins refers to he/she as a “Barney Fife”—so that it’s the town’s problem instead of the White House’s problem. In this way, the administration is crassly abusing the system to avoid public criticism.
The part having to do with searches and seizures, and the right of the accused, focused on cases involving citizens who found themselves in court, attempting to defend themselves, without ever even know what the charges against them were. Cases of illegal searches by the FBI, and other such abuses of power.
Ivins also, inexplicably, spends a good deal of time over the Intelligent Design case in Dover, Pennsylvania, although how that quite fits into federal abuse of civil rights, I’m not entirely sure.
My problem with the book is this: it essentially just describes a series of court cases, with an occasional snarky Ivins comment thrown in for good measure. Something about this tended to leave me cold, as it felt less like Ivins was arguing something and more like she was merely describing. I get that the crassness of these cases is supposed to lead to a self-evident argument, but I couldn’t help but feel as though there was something seriously lacking in the book. As though it was compiled from notes, rather than written with intent.